INDIANAPOLIS -- A voting security advocacy group is trying to force a leader of a state election officials association to release documents on whether she wrongly asserted that U.S. election systems are safe from hacking.
The National Election Defense Coalition filed a lawsuit Thursday against Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson alleging she's violated state law in denying public record requests since September for her communications about election security with the National Association of Secretaries of State. Lawson was the bipartisan association's 2017-18 president and is currently co-chair of its cybersecurity committee.
The coalition argues that Lawson's public statements have downplayed the vulnerability of election systems. It pointed to her testimony for a 2017 U.S. Senate intelligence committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election during which she said it was "very important to underscore that voting machines are not connected to the internet or networked in any way."
Officials in at least four states — Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin — have certified election equipment that includes wireless modems, according to the coalition. Such vulnerabilities are among the election security issues that the federal government and states have struggled with since the 2016 election, tangled by partisan fighting and the intricacies of state-run election systems.
"We need to know why NASS and Secretary Lawson have repeated misinformation about voting system security that seems to originate from the voting system vendors," said Susan Greenhalgh, the coalition's policy director.
Three little-known U.S. companies control about 90 percent of the market for election equipment, but have long faced criticism for poor security, antiquated technology and insufficient transparency around their proprietary, black-box voting systems.
Lawson's office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The coalition's lawsuit says the multiple denials from Lawson's office have included assertions that communication records are exempt from disclosure because the secretaries of state group is a private organization and some of the material is covered by federal copyright law or protected by an exemption for trade secrets. The coalition argues that the association's status as a private group is "completely irrelevant" because the documents are being requested from Lawson's office, which is a public agency covered by the state public records law.
The National Association of Secretaries of State said in a statement that Lawson helped lead several efforts to ensure election security.
"Our country's highly-decentralized, low-connectivity voting process has many built-in checks and balances to safeguard its structural integrity and is constantly evolving," the group said.
Lawson, a Republican, was also a member of President Donald Trump's short-lived election fraud commission that he disbanded in early 2018 amid infighting and refusals by numerous states to cooperate.
The nation's intelligence chiefs have warned that Russia remains interested in disrupting U.S. elections after a multipronged effort to interfere during 2016. That included attempts to hack into the election systems of 21 states.